In his first season of pro ball, Ben Breazeale wasted no time flashing his quick bat and sharp skills behind the plate. With the regular season winding down, Breazeale leads the New York-Penn League (as of 8/2/17) in batting average and runs batted in. He also just recently was named the Baltimore Orioles Minor League Player of the Month.
17-game hit streak in the books, I checked in with Ben to see how his first season of professional baseball was going and what got him to this point thus far.
What got you into catching?
When you're little, not many guys want to catch let alone will stick with it going forward, so when I got put behind the plate and liked it, I never wanted to stop.
Any catchers you looked up to growing up?
When I was younger I watched "Pudge" (Iván Rodríguez). I liked his style of play, especially as a catcher.
How did batting left-handed but throwing right-handed come to be?
When I was younger and had one of those plastic tees, I would take cuts as a lefty. I swung that one time and never put it down. Now I feel like being a lefty gives me an offensive edge because there aren't as many lefties as there are righties.
How does catching differ between college and pro-ball?
One of the biggest differences as a catcher is pitch selection. In college, the pitching coach calls all the pitches so I don't have much of a say in what is thrown other than in summer ball where I would call my own games. That's been a big adjustment professionally as I try to learn the new staff and what they like to throw. Deciding pitches during the game is just as much about the pitcher as it is about the batter's weaknesses. At this level, most of the guys are new so we don't have much information on them yet which means pitch selection is often dictated by what pitches are working for the pitcher that day.
What has been the biggest challenge about learning the pitching staff so far?
The sheer volume of guys on the team. At this level, especially with the draft, there are new guys coming in and out, which means there is a bit of jumping around. There isn't as much consistency as in higher levels where there are set starting pitchers and relievers. With the large number of guys on the team, it also brings the challenge of learning each pitcher and their arsenals individually, because you can't call pitches the same way for any one guy-everyone is different.
What do you talk about with your pitcher when the pitching coach comes out to the mound?
A lot of the time we talk strategy (e.g. bringing the infield in for the next batter). As a catcher, my role is very important because I can see the whole field, where the ball crosses the plate, and how the batter is situated in the box. These are not always things the guys in the field and the coaches are seeing. Taking this knowledge to Hendrickson helps us develop strategy for innings going forward and is often what is brought to the mound during meetings.
Most of the time though, the conferences just serve to slow the game down and lower the pitcher's heart rate. If he gives up a couple hits and a lot starts to happen, it's always good to give the pitcher a few moments to collect himself and refocus on throwing strikes. Remaining positive and giving encouragement - sometimes even cracking a joke - helps when a pitcher is struggling.
How has living with a host family shaped your experience so far?
The Wolf family has provided me with everything I could need, like meals and a place to sleep. They are such kind people who are big into baseball and are always coming to watch me and Zach play. If they aren't at an Aberdeen game, they are in Bowie or Frederick. I couldn't ask for more from them.
Do you have any interests outside of baseball?
Being from Tennessee, I love the outdoors. Although we don't get much off-time, when we do I like going for a hike or just spending some time outside.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.